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Gannett public corruption bill now attached to broader Senate ethics package

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A controversial new ethics proposal backed by the Gannett chain of newspapers has just scored an advancement in its quest to become law.

The so-called “anti-corruption” bill that would hold government contractors to standards now applied to many elected officials has just been adopted as part of Sen. Don Gaetz‘s SB 686, an omnibus ethics reform bill likely to pass this Session, according to legislative research service LobbyTools.

Gaetz, who also carried the Gannett proposal as a stand-alone bill that ran into vocal opposition Tuesday, now sounds more sanguine about its chances of passage.

Lawmakers now have “a lot more reason to vote for this bill,” Gaetz told the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.

Gaetz says he is working on the bill along with Speaker-to-be Rep. Richard Corcoran, who incidentally made another booming pronouncement before the Florida Chamber Wednesday, telling the pro-business group “we are the problem,” referring to the Legislature — “and so are you.”

Sen. Jack Latvala made waves during a meeting of the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability Tuesday, saying the panel should not be bullied into passing the measure.

Latvala said he was troubled by the overly broad latitude the bill gives to state attorneys to bring indictments against officials. He also said he was galled by the nerve a journalistic organization showed by first endorsing and opposing candidates, then coming to Tallahassee to lobby them.

“I’ve made very clear that there are some good aspects to this bill,” said Latvala. “But I’m very, very concerned with a newspaper which editorializes in support of candidates coming in here and pushing us to do something like this, and making me feel like somehow I’m a crook if I don’t vote for this.”

“Let me just say this,” said Latvala, visibly unhappy at encroachment by the Fourth Estate. “This is my 14th year, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this.”

“I’ve never seen an editorial writer up here doing this kind of thing. Maybe that’s how we sell newspapers these days. I’m rebelling at that as much as anything here. I just think it’s wrong.”

SB 686 was reported favorably by the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee Tuesday. It faces a gamut of three more committees before it reaches the Senate floor.

A House companion bill sponsored by Rep. Larry Metz now sits before its first committee of reference. It has not been taken up so far during the 2016 lawmaking period.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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